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Grammar and Editing for English Learners
Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs
The spelling of word endings, called suffixes, changes what words can do in English. Understanding word form also helps you learn about parts of speech (noun, adjective, verb, adverb).
Noun: a person, place, thing, or concept
Where can you find a noun?
before a verb (subject of a verb) – The dog barked.
after a verb (object of a verb) – walk the dog
after an adjective – angry dog
after an article or determiner – the dog, his dog, any dog
after a preposition – with the dog
Verb (two kinds)
actions: Bob (walked, drove, ran, biked) to school.
states of being: Bob (is, seemed, became) angry.
Adjective (describes a noun)
Where can you find an adjective?
before a noun – angry dog
after a stative verb (be, feel, seem) – The dog is angry.
after “cause” verbs (get, have, make) – She made the dog angry.
Adverb (modifies almost everything except nouns)
a verb -- She walked slowly
an adjective -- The bag was extremely heavy.
another adverb -- She talked very quietly.
at the beginning of a sentence -- Unfortunately, he lost his wallet.
at the end of a sentence -- He lost his umbrella, too.
Word Form Suffixes
Suffixes are the endings on words. The suffix controls the part of speech. When the spelling changes at the end of the word, the part of speech also changes.
create = verb
creative = adjective
creation = noun
creatively = adverb
Below are lists of common suffixes for the four main parts of speech
NOTE: The * indicates that this ending works for several parts of speech.
Example: - ate works for verbs (refrigerate) and adjectives (passionate)
|Verb Endings||Noun Endings||Adjective Endings||Adverb Endings|
|-ate*||refrigerate||-age*||damage||-able / -ible||comfortable||-ly||happily|
|-ify||satisfy||-ence / -ance||difference||-ed*||excited|
|-ing*||working||-ency / -ancy||dependency||-en||broken|
|-ize*||recognize||-er* / -or||employer||-ent||different|
|-tion / -ion||pollution||-some||handsome|
Adding Who, Which or That
Using more than one verb in the same clause or sentence can lead to sentence structure errors. Often, the writer splices together two parts of a sentence that need to be kept separate. This resource will show you how use who, which and that to correct sentences with mixed construction or double verb errors where one of the verbs is missing the subject. The sentence below is an example of a sentence with two verbs where one of the verbs is missing a subject.
ERROR: People own cars must pay high insurance costs.
|[missing subject]||must pay||high insurance costs|
Although double verb errors like this one can be corrected in several ways, the easiest fix is to add a relative pronoun (such as “that, which, or who”) to create a new subject for one of the verbs.
People who own cars must pay high insurance costs.
|who||must pay||high insurance costs|
However, the relative pronoun (e.g., who, which, that) needs to go with the correct verb for the right meaning. For example, the following sentence does not make sense:
ERROR: People have cars who must pay high costs for insurance.
Here is another example sentence that can be fixed with “which” or “that:”
Incorrect sentence: I found a path goes to the river.
Correct sentence: I found a path that goes to the river.
Avoid There is,There are, and It is
Using more than one verb in the same clause or sentence can lead to sentence structure errors. Often, the writer splices together two parts of a sentence that need to be kept separate. This resource will show you how to correct double verb errors where one of the verbs is missing the subject.
“There” and “It” used as subjects are called expletive subjects because they have no meaning; they act as false subjects. They can make a sentence wordy and often lead to a double-verb error.
Example of double-verb error: There is too much rain falls in Vancouver.
|There||is||too much rain|
The table above shows that “too much rain” completes the first part of the sentence; it has the job of finishing the first clause. This means that it cannot also do the job of starting a new clause with the verb “falls,” so the verb “falls” is lacking a subject.
CORRECTION: Too much rain falls in Vancouver.
|Too much rain||falls||in Vancouver.|
The best way to fix this error is to avoid, if possible, using “It is” and “There are” in your writing. Below are more examples of this error.
To fix the errors below, remove the “there” or “it” phrase that starts each sentence.
- There are many children die of malnutrition in the Third World.
- It is Global Warming causes changes in weather patterns.
- There are many changes have happened in the past ten years.
- Each year there is a large number of students leave their homes and travel to Canada.
Editing for Language Errors
This resource explains several strategies for finding and fixing English language errors in your writing. Editing your writing for language errors takes practice; as you include these strategies in your writing process, your will get faster and better at noticing and fixing language issues in your writing.
Most importantly, don’t worry about language, grammar, or punctuation errors while you write the first drafts of a paper. Because writing requires so many levels of detail, it’s best to first focus your mental energy on explaining the ideas, organizing the paper, and providing evidence and support for your ideas. Wait until your paper is almost finished before paying attention to language errors.
To do a good job of editing, look for only one kind of error at a time (it’s difficult to notice many kinds of errors at the same time). A good place to start is to ask yourself, “What mistakes do I make most often?” At the top of your paper, make a list of these common types of errors.
Read through your paper looking specifically for each of your most frequent types of errors, one at a time.
Circle suspected errors of each type.
Fix the errors you notice, and circle or highlight spots where you have questions.
If you have not already looked for noun errors, underline all the nouns and then check the nouns for the following:
Singular/Plural/Uncountable – for each noun, do you mean “one” or “more than one”? Make sure plural nouns end with “s”.
Check the verbs that follow these nouns for agreement to make sure each verb has the correct form to match the noun.
An effective editing step to help you notice other types of errors is “backwards editing.” To use this strategy, start with the last sentence of the paper, read it carefully to make sure it works by itself as a complete sentence. Then, go to the next-to-last sentence and keep moving sentence by sentence working your way through the paper from the last sentence to the first sentence. This strategy helps you notice each sentence, one at a time, to make sure it works properly as a complete sentence on its own. Students who use this strategy often notice small errors they didn’t see when they were editing the paper from the front to the back.
After you have followed these steps, take your questions to your instructor, a classmate, or a tutor.
A final editing step is to read the paper out loud to someone, or have another person read the paper out loud to you – when you have an audience to listen to the paper, you will notice places in the writing that need clarifying or improvement.
Using a Dictionary to Improve English Expression
Using English words and expressions accurately in academic writing is challenging for multilingual students. English learner dictionaries provide a powerful tool for word choice and expression in writing, especially for the many word combinations in English that do not follow grammar rules.
Recommended Online Learner’s Dictionaries
- Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
- Collins Online English Dictionary
- Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
How can a Learner’s Dictionary help you?
Word Choice and Idioms
Learn how to use a word or expression in a sentence, which words go together in English, and how changes in word combinations change meanings.
Prepositions that combine with other words to change meanings:
Contrast the difference in meaning between She threw up her lunch and She threw down her lunch
Whether to use the verb + ing (gerund) or the to + verb (infinitive) when a second verb comes after the main verb:
Correct: He appreciated receiving the award.
Incorrect: He appreciated to receive the award.
Correct: We decided to go camping.
Incorrect: We decided going camping.
Countable vs. Uncountable Nouns
Understand whether a noun should end with an “s” or not.
e.g. Time flies not Times fly.
Recognize which ending to put on a word.
e.g. She recognized me. (verb)
I was pleased by the recognition. (noun)
His blue jacket is very recognizable. (adjective)
Learning to use a dictionary effectively takes practice, so it’s important to frequently use the dictionary to improve how you use this tool. The more you use the dictionary, the more it will help you use English expression accurately.
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